Council votes to reach out to contractors for heavy snowfall assistance

·3 min read

The last Committee of the Whole Meeting saw another lengthy discussion about snow removal within the City of Merritt.

At a Committee of the Whole meeting on Jan. 29, 2021, the Capital and Operating Budget was presented. A total of six options were given, ranging from pushing snow to the middle of the road for all priority areas, to driveway windrow clearing, to clearing of parking areas, and increased snow load out for the downtown core.

By far the most popular option with council was option number six, which would allow Public Works to reach out to local contractors for assistance in snow clearing during extreme snow events, such as the storm that walloped the Nicola Valley on Dec. 21, 2020, where an estimated 44cm fell within a 24-hour period.

“Coming into the 2020/2021 winter we still had 55% of the snow removal budget remaining and we still went over, so that’s really a sign of how much that storm cost and how much resources and money it took,” said Superintendent of Public Works, Charlie Henderson, who also noted that they did not just battle the initial snowfall, but the cumulative effects for two weeks.

“That storm was probably into the $25,000 to $30,000 dollar mark… so having a $50,000 reserve we could bring in that subcontractor, an approach that we haven’t used historically, and from there we can maintain that 24-hour shift. We can load out snow faster, load out snow longer, and if those funds aren’t used, we could allocate them to something like flooding. I think it’s a very smart approach, I think it’s the best approach, in my opinion.”

While the other options may in some cases provide a higher level of clearing and snow removal, they ultimately represent a significant cost increase, in some cases an additional $490,000 at the outset, which mayor and council were not prepared to approve.

Although there is not a complete guarantee that local contractors would be able to assist if they themselves are overburdened with their own snow clearing contracts, Henderson feels confident that they would be able to step up and said that he had received a “verbal commitment”.

Councillor Kurt Christopherson once again raised the difficult question of Nicola Avenue, which is technically under the scope of Yellowhead Road & Bridge as it is classed as a provincial highway, not a city street.

“Is there any way the City and YRB can come to some sort of agreement? A cost sharing?” questioned Christopherson.

“Anything that can offer a glimmer of hope for the folks along Nicola Ave. that really struggle year after year after year, because the snow just keeps exchanging from the road to the sidewalk and back and forth.”

While Henderson did not have a ready-made solution for this problem, he agreed to look into the issue and see what could be done.

Mayor Linda Brown chimed in: “They’re part of the City, and we have to include them whether the YRB contract involves that particular thing or not… I think we need to take care of it.”

Henderson also told Council that, in response to their concerns for the seniors and more vulnerable Merrittonians, the reserve may also be able to assist them by utilizing the extra funds and personnel.

“Maybe at that time we could go into that reserve, dispatch some subcontractors for a couple of days and help with driveway clearing,” Henderson explained, which mayor and council appeared to support.

A motion to utilize up to $50,000 from the financial stabilization reserve during a major winter storm or a flood event was carried unanimously. The proposed snow removal budget would also see an increase from just under $107,000 to $109,000.

The actual cost of snow removal in 2020 was $115,838.

Morgan Hampton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Merritt Herald